In the weeks leading up to GP Los Angeles, I was locked into playing Jeskai Nahiri. I love playing control decks, and that combo finish was the icing on the cake. Efficient removal spells, Snapcaster Mages, and Nahiri excited me at first, but the deck just wasn’t that good. I put up decent numbers on Magic Online, but I was not impressed. The creature matchups should have been great with Paths, Bolts, and Helixes—but they weren’t. You would stumble, not have the right colors of lands, shock yourself, or just fall too far behind to catch up despite these efficient answers. While I felt favored, it wasn’t enough, and other matchups were also challenging.
I built a RG Land Destruction deck on Magic Online to try out. I had heard a little bit of talk about it doing well on Magic Online and in some Modern State Championships. It wasn’t too exciting, but it was definitely fun. My first Pro Tour back from a long hiatus was in San Diego of 2010. I played a Conley Woods brew that he and David Williams also played. This deck was truly bad, but Conley said it absolutely crushed Jund, which I thought would be the most represented deck in the field, despite my not really playing Magic at the time.
I was right, and ended up playing against Jund 5 times. After going 1-4 in those matches, my back was against the wall, but I found ways to beat everything else and put up a 5-1 in Limited to remain on the train. Despite the deck’s inherent weaknesses, I really did enjoy playing it.
The first deck I ever took to a semi-competitive FNM-style event, approximately 20 years ago, was also a land destruction deck with all the “good” cards that I owned. This meant that there was a single Sinkhole, an Ice Storm, and an Ali from Cairo to try to stay alive. The mana wasn’t very good and the cards weren’t very powerful, but I loved it.
The week before LA, I played a number of leagues with my RG Land Destruction deck in MTGO Modern Leagues. This isn’t the best testing, but I didn’t feel like I was testing. I was enjoying myself and playing a deck that was messing with people’s lands. I had a number of opponents ask me if I was playing this deck at the GP, and my answers varied while remaining very similar.
“This is more of a ‘fun’ deck.”
“I’m not planning on it, but who knows.”
“I’m maybe 5% to play this.”
I ran into several of these opponents at the GP who all inquired if I actually decided to sleeve up the RG Land Destruction deck. The pivotal point came in going dealer to dealer and trying to acquire the final Beta Stone Rains for the deck. With only 1 dealer remaining in the entire GP room, it looked like Nahiri was going to get the nod, but I spiked!
— eric froehlich (@efropoker) May 22, 2016
This was the deck I wanted to play. Did I think it was the best deck in the format? Certainly not. But did I think the deck was good enough to win the tournament while being an absolute blast to play? Totally.
I read a primer written by Matt Mendoza on the deck, which definitely helped me in filling in some of the blanks I may have missed in my own testing. The crazy thing to me was how similar our lists actually were before I had even seen his breakdowns! Maybe we were both really onto something…
Here’s the list I played to an 11-4 finish in GP L.A.:
RG Land Destruction
Utopia Sprawl lets this deck exist. It’s acceleration, it’s color fixing, and it doesn’t care about Lightning Bolt. That’s the big 3. Without the presence of this card, the deck simply doesn’t work, and playing fewer than 4 cannot be correct.
The other best accelerator available is Arbor Elf. While Arbor Elf doesn’t necessarily provide extra colors like other mana creatures in the format, being able to untap a land with Utopia Sprawl on it is a massive advantage. Having both Elf and Sprawl in your opening hand allows you to sequence a turn-1 Elf into a turn-2 Sprawl, tap and untap the Sprawled land, and now you can cast a 4-drop on turn 2.
Birds of Paradise was a later addition. The hands where you have a turn-1 play are just so much better than the hands you don’t. There are going to be matchups where a hand without a 1-drop are unkeepable as there isn’t even a single 2-mana spell in the deck. Not being able to get onto the board until turn 3 is a disaster, but casting a 3-mana spell on turn 2 is fantastic. Birds doesn’t actually do much in a deck without Gavony Township or Kessig Wolf Run beyond turn 1, but the power level is high enough to warrant an inclusion.
When Blood Moon is good, RG Land Destruction is good. In a world where Blood Moon isn’t a powerhouse, there’s no real reason to be playing this deck. But Blood Moon is fantastic right now and this deck can cast it turn 2 consistently. An opponent on the draw will often lead on a tapped land and then be shut off of playing spells for the rest of the game. Sometimes I’m on the draw and they get a basic and permanent into play, but this deck is filled with land destruction to kill that land and ways to buy time against a small number of threats. Sure, they may fetch in response and get their basic, but that brings us to the highlight…
4 copies of Beta Stone Rain. The crown jewel. The number of opponents who had to read this iconic card was pretty crazy to me, but I guess it was more their shock that this was happening than not knowing what a Stone Rain is. A turn-2 Stone Rain on the play cripples many decks, and there are far too many in the format that aren’t playing enough lands. Targeting basics both before and after Blood Moon helps to lock people out quickly.
Beast Within is a card I tried in various quantities between 0 and 3. I eventually settled on 2, but it was tough to get that high. I played more copies in versions of the deck with Anger of the Gods and/or Lightning Bolt, but it’s nice to have the utility. Killing a land at instant speed against a blue mage who is leaving up a counter is fantastic as now you can untap and resolve a big spell (which for me, several times, was Inferno Titan killing their Beast). This is also one of your best tools at fighting cards like Cranial Plating, enchantments out of Bogles, or Phyrexian Unlife.
Mwonvuli Acid-Moss definitely got the most readers throughout the tournament, including judges. I even heard some spectators trying to explain to others on the rail what the card did, but they were rarely correct. As a land destruction spell that also ramps you to Inferno Titan, the Acid-Moss is great. Many games play out the same way thanks to the redundancy in the deck—a turn-1 accelerator into hopefully turn-2 Blood Moon (but Stone Rain will suffice), turn 3 Acid-Moss, and something huge like Inferno Titan on 4.
I’m not sold on all of the Bonfire of the Damneds. I started with 1, tested 2 for a while, and ended up playing 4 in the tournament. The card is mediocre at best to draw in your opening hand, and while there are instances in game where it’s the best draw in the entire format (and it’s commonly the only card you want to draw on many turns of the game), there will be other times where it’s not a good draw and rots in your hand. While the deck is more than capable of getting to 7+ mana and hardcasting a Bonfire for 3 or more, you can’t bank on that. With miracles that you want to draw the turn you play them, including as many copies as you can tends to be the right decision, but it’s tough in a deck with no library manipulation, no way to get it out of your hand, and no ways to draw cards during your opponent’s turn. I’m definitely not 100% sold on 4, but I still feel it’s likely right.
Inferno Titan is the best top-end in the Modern format for this deck. It’s affordable and it cleans up the game entirely. Decks like Abzan Company, Infect, Affinity, etc. all have tons of 1-toughness creatures that a Titan will sweep away, and then he’ll end the game very quickly on his own. Being bigger than opposing creatures like Tarmogoyf is also a nice sell.
I loved the creatures in this deck outside of the mana dorks. My final list included 2 Obstinate Baloth, 2 Thragtusk, 1 Stormbreath Dragon, and I liked all of those numbers. Having a handful of creatures that play well against Lightning Bolt is awesome. Thragtusk has been a great sideboard card against all sorts of midrange Jund strategies, but having the acceleration to get it out early enough to have an impact against aggro is great. Obstinate Baloth is a common turn-3 play that definitely hit the battlefield turn 2 more than once. Stormbreath can be great against Lingering Souls, Bolts, Paths, and mainly Nahiri, but I don’t think it’s as critical as the life gain creatures and it would be my first cut if I had to make one from this list.
I also played a singleton Lightning Bolt and Chandra, Pyromaster. While I would love to have access to more Lightning Bolts, it never really felt necessary. Spot removal, especially one that only deals 3 damage, was underwhelming as many matchups required mass removal or Path to Exile. Having access to at least 1 Bolt helps to keep people honest, so I wasn’t unhappy to have 1. Chandra is also quite nice against a number of small creatures, but is mostly a tool to gain huge card advantage while pulling away from midrange. Being out of burn or Abrupt Decay range was critical and Chandra proved great time and time again.
As for the mana base, the one thing I’m unsure about is the basic Mountain. I don’t think I ever fetched it or cared that it was there. Going forward, I think I’m going to try 1 additional fetchland as the few times where fetching red was important, it was going to be fine to have a Stomping Ground.
I loved the sideboard I used for this deck and every single card came in a number of times. Fracturing Gust is the 1 card I didn’t actually get to cast in the GP, but there were multiple games where it was the card I most wanted to draw (or needed to draw 1 more land to cast and win).
As for the decks I actually faced:
My first time playing against this deck, I got completely slaughtered. I kept a draw that was too slow in game 1, and after sideboard I had the option to cast an Anger on turn 2 following a Birds, but that would have only killed 2 Ornithopters. He followed that up with an Etched Champion I could no longer kill and then a pair of Platings. The only sideboard card I drew was the Angers, but a Gust would win the game and a Grudge would likely do so. It wasn’t meant to be.
My other time playing against Affinity felt like I would easily win as game 1 he was down to just a Darksteel Citadel and Springleaf Drum with no cards in hand, no creatures, and I was at 12. I ended up building to 20 mana and never found a spell while he went Ornithopter, Ornithopter, Steel Overseer, Steel Overseer. I still had a couple more turns to find a Bonfire to win on the spot, but didn’t. I drew Fracturing Gust game 2, but he top decked multiple Blasts to kill my mana creatures and I stalled on lands for too long.
This matchup is not good, but definitely winnable. Game 1 is horrible, while sideboarded games are fine if you draw any of the good cards.
Here’s how I sideboarded:
This matchup seems like it would be poor, but it really isn’t. One of my losses was to a bad keep on my part in a game that I should never have lost otherwise. They require pretty reasonable mana to follow through with their game plan, so Blood Moon is actually quite strong. Shutting down their Nexuses and ability to cast spells is great. You also have some good removal spells for their small creatures and even Elves to block.
My Jund opponents drew well, resolved turn-2 Bob and Tarmogoyf regularly, and were able to Lightning Bolt my mana creatures or Thoughtseize me on time. It still didn’t matter. Sprawl is amazing—turn-2 Blood Moon is lights out. The creatures are already so good against them and all of the midrange threats get around Bolts and Decays. I’m very happy to play against these style of decks all day, even if they can steal games. Having 2 Baloths pre-board and 3 post-board is quite nice against Liliana of the Veil.
Naya Zoo Blitz (1-0)
This matchup is tough, especially because Blood Moon is good against them but they have plenty of red spells. The creatures are such massive threats against them that you have a reasonable chance with a good draw, but are drawing dead with any mediocre hands.
The Sudden Shocks are weaker against the bigger versions of Zoo, but I still preferred to have the removal spell over anything slower, even if it only kills Burning-Tree Emissary, Reckless Bushwhacker, and the rare Experiment One.
This is similar to Jund (and even moreso to decks like Jeskai). Their mana is critical and they have even fewer threats. If they manage to get a big creature, like Tasigur or Gurmag Angler into play, things can get challenging, but you have removal and your own big creatures as answers. Expect to be very favored.
RG Eldrazi (0-1)
I think this may have been my best matchup that I played against in the tournament, but it didn’t work out. They’re super weak to Blood Moon and land destruction in general, and you have equally good acceleration with equally big creatures. This is probably the matchup I would choose to play against if given the option.
This is another matchup where they can’t really beat a Blood Moon but are also weak to land destruction. Even the life gain creatures can be tough as they make sure you’re above 18, requiring Scapeshift to have 8 or more lands in play (and no Moon out).
Ad Nauseam (1-0)
This matchup really hinges on Lotus Bloom. Blood Moon can completely shut them out save their artifacts. Pentad Prism can help, and Lotus Bloom can ignore it. My best draw of the tournament came in a game 1 against Ad Nauseam where I had a turn 1 Sprawl, turn 2 Moon, turn 3 Baloth, turn 4 Dragon with the ability to win on turn 5, but he suspended 2 Blooms on turn 1 and killed me! After board, having more ways to kill artifacts helps immensely, but the matchup is close. Beast Within and Natural State can both kill a Phyrexian Unlife, which will almost always win the game.
The one popular matchup that I didn’t end up facing at all was Abzan Company. I think this is one of your very best matchups, and here is how I would sideboard:
I think this deck has what it takes to be one of the best in the format, but either way, it’s going to be a ton of fun messing with your opponent’s lands! I’m really glad I got the opportunity to play this list, and I hope you do as well. If you want more discussion on the deck, check out the latest episode of Constructed Resources with myself and Marshall Sutcliffe, right here on ChannelFireball. I’m going to be trying to tie in our Deck of the Week with my Deck of the Day column, all of which you can find on CFB—I hope you enjoy them!
Any changes you recommend or success you’ve had with the archetype? Sound off in the comments!